Navigating the grocery store can be daunting, but these tips will make filling your cart with healthy foods easy.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are the most important thing to have in your grocery cart. They provide fiber and numerous vitamins and minerals, some of which act as antioxidants in the body. Aim for 2 cups of whole fruits and 2.5 cups of vegetables per day. Buy produce in-season for the best taste and concentration of nutrients. When shopping out of season, remember that frozen is just as good as fresh. Pick fruits and vegetables that you like, but don’t be afraid to try something new.
The general recommendation is to “make at least half of your grains whole.” Whole-grain products offer fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals, and include whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat tortillas, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, corn tortillas, popcorn, barley, whole-wheat crackers, quinoa and oats, just to name a few. When shopping for whole grains, it is important to read the ingredient label. In general, one of the first three ingredients should read whole-wheat flour or whole-grain oats, not unbleached wheat flour. Read more about whole grains here.
Fill your cart with a variety of proteins, like meat, fish, eggs and soy products. Opt for lean meats like chicken and turkey rather than red meats, which are higher in saturated fat. Lean fish, such as shrimp, tilapia and scallops, and fatty fish like salmon and swordfish, provide healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Water-packed canned tuna and salmon is also a great option. Don’t forget about vegetarian options, such as eggs, tofu, tempeh and frozen edamame.
Beans are a delicious fiber-loaded and low-fat food to add to your grocery cart. Hummus, made from garbanzo beans, makes a great dip for vegetables or smeared on sandwiches. If purchasing canned beans, look for the low-sodium label and rinse the beans before using. Dry beans and dry lentils are more cost efficient but usually take longer to cook.
Cereal, granola and oatmeal
Breakfast cereals are a quick and convenient option filled with fiber, and should be a grocery-cart staple. However, many cereals, granola and oatmeal packets are loaded with added sugars, even those that may seem healthy. Always read the ingredient label to find sources of sugar. If sugar is the first, second or third ingredient, opt for a different kind. Look for options that are 100 percent whole grain and have no more than 5-8 grams of sugar per serving. Original Cheerios and plain oatmeal (instant, rolled or steel-cut) are great options.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are great snacks when paired with whole fruit or veggies. Pistachios, walnuts, almonds and cashews can be found unsalted. Almond butter and peanut butter are also grocery-cart essentials. Again, read the ingredient label and check for sources of added sugar.
It would be completely unrealistic to go to the grocery store without grabbing a few convenience foods for busy days, because life is all about balance! When shopping for convenience foods such as granola bars, breakfast waffles and frozen dinners, check the ingredient label for multiple sources of added sugar, and opt for choices with fewer than 500 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Did you know that a 20-ounce soda generally contains 15 teaspoons of added sugar? Rather than purchasing fruit juices and soda, which contain sugar, opt for water, flavored seltzers and unsweetened tea. Consuming too much added sugar can contribute to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Read more about added sugars in foods and beverages here.
Low-calorie spices and seasonings
Make sure to stock up on low-calorie spices and seasonings, such as no-salt-added spices, vinegar, mustard, salsa, herbs and citrus. Get more idea inspiration here.
Dairy products are most likely already in your grocery cart, and a few simple swaps can make those choices as healthy as can be. Pick up fat-free or low-fat milk, cheese sticks and plain yogurts. If you are lactose intolerant, choose lactose-free brands or Kefir, which contains lactose that is already broken down. Limit foods made from milk that do not contain as many nutritional benefits, such as cream cheese, cream and butter.
Download the “Fooducate” app for more help navigating the grocery store; it scans products and labels to find the best option!
Jordan Higgins is a dietetic intern at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Originally from Albany, New York, Jordan received her bachelor’s from Fordham University and completed graduate courses in nutrition from The Sage Colleges. After completing the internship in 2017, Jordan hopes to combine her love for cooking and nutrition education into a unique and inspiring business.